Interstellar Review: Time Is A Flat Circle

Interstellar Review
out of 5

Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar is ambitious, I will give it that. It’s science fiction in the grandest scale, on par with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in how far it tries to reach. Unfortunately, Chris and Jonathan Nolan are not Stanley Kubrick, or Arthur C. Clarke, and the end result of Interstellar is fiction, with some science thrown in, and tons of predictable melodrama.

Interstellar is one of those movies that has spoilerish twists in the narrative, so I’ll try to steer clear of them, though some will have to be discussed to highlight what works and what doesn’t in the production. Consider yourselves warned.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper, a failed NASA pilot who now raises his kids (Mackenzie Foy and Timothee Chalamet) with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), and corn, on a farm somewhere in middle America. The earth is dying, and food is becoming scarce. A blight has wiped out most other crops, and corn is the only thing left to grow. High schools are pushing students to be farmers, and away from being engineers or doctors or other careers that could also help mankind. You farm or you we all die.

Interstellar Review

Father (McConaughey) and Daughter (Foy) share a moment in ‘Interstellar.’

Dust storms are a way of life, and there is no future for the human race. Enter Michael Caine and a secretly reborn NASA, who have a grand plan to utilize a wormhole found outside of Saturn to find a new planet to recolonize and save the human race.  Cooper is forced to kiss his kids goodbye, as he is the only person on earth who can pilot the rocket to save us all, even though we are shown that his only other attempt at space travel ended with a crash.

The earth story is magnificently done, showing a future not with flying cars and television programs beamed directly into our brains, but of life trying to survive. The world has essentially reverted back to itself in the 1930s, complete with dust bowl-era events that would make the Joad family long for better times. But when the film shifts to space, things get out of hand quickly.

With this shift, Interstellar becomes an additional two-plus hours of space story, with interludes back on earth showing what is going on while our saviors are engaged in their mission. And I say this, because this is the biggest wrong with Interstellar. It’s too big of a story, and the nearly three-hour run time is bloated with unnecessary plot points and failed attempts at creating motivation and backstories for characters who serve only to die to show the danger to us all as a species. When the science is working, and on an IMAX screen, the film looks amazing, and the sound and the music–oh, that music–is wonderful. But when Nolan pulls back to the humans to try and move the story along, the film grinds to halt. And the science here is key. By the end of the film, all science is thrown out the window and it tries to become some magical meta-philosophical treaty on life and why we exist. Oh and time. Always with the time. I also watched Disney’s Big Hero 6 this week, and the science in that film trumps the science in Interstellar. Take that as you will.

Interstellar review

Anne Hathaway co-stars as Dr. Brand, who goes on the mission to save humanity.

In addition to McConaughey, Caine and Lithgow, the cast is rounded out by Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain and Topher Grace. I found myself outright hating Anne Hathaway’s performance–and her character–and late in the second act she is given a ridiculous subplot from left field as to her motivations for going on the mission. I groaned. It was at this point that the whole film began to veer dangerously off-course. And when Matt Damon suddenly appears, Interstellar tries to become an action thriller, and it doesn’t work. Matt Damon is no HAL, and with enough odds against our leads, do we really need a late-in-the-story subplot like Damon’s?

The Nolans try to bring the film back onto course by tying it into the events of the beginning of the film, but by then, the science is now all fiction and it begins to devolve Interstellar into something it’s not. I found the third act almost insulting–and predictable, and if it wasn’t for the aforementioned score by Hans Zimmer, which is breathtaking in every way, and the visuals which are Chris Nolan at his finest, the entire production would have gone the way of the Space Shuttle Columbia upon re-entry in 2003.

If the Nolans could have focused the story into a tight narrative and not try to cram every idea they had–borrowed, or otherwise–into the production, Interstellar could have been an excellent movie. There is too much going on, and it plays incredibly loose with the science, using big words to try and explain how things work. And of course, Matthew McConaughey has his moments of spouting philosophy in his patented Texas drawl, and when the issue of time is brought up, I fully expected him to revisit his most famous line from the HBO series True Detective. As absurd as it is, it would have fit here, which serves to point out the narrative failings of the script.

I do want to single out one thing that I thought was utterly fantastic in Interstellar and that was the juxtaposition of Cooper leaving his family, driving away in a pickup truck with a plume of dust kicked up behind him intercut with scenes from the launch of the rocketship meant to save us all. It was one of the finest visual moments I’ve seen in a movie house this year, but unfortunately one scene cannot save a bloated production.

Interstellar reached far into the stars to try and tell a story of humanity’s last days, but the results proved less than satisfying. As a huge Chris Nolan fan, this is his second misstep in a row, following The Dark Knight Rises, which had some of the same narrative issues, proving that the problem is with Nolan and not his subject matter. I once proclaimed Chris Nolan one of the best visual storytellers working today after I watched Inception, but have since changed my mind. Too many ideas and themes in one film only serves to hurt that film, and Interstellar is the prime example of that. Taken apart, it has some very fine moments, but crammed together as it is, the film suffers, and so does my faith in Christopher Nolan.

Interstellar is rated PG-13 and opens today on IMAX (70mm film prints) and nationwide on Friday, November 7, 2014.

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